Controversial plans to integrate railway policing into Police Scotland have been thrown into doubt after the scheduled start date was delayed.
It was confirmed yesterday that the merger of British Transport Police (BTP) and Police Scotland will not be possible by April next year, as previously planned.
Police Scotland said it had become clear the integration would not be achieved by that date without “compromising public safety”.
The national force is due to assume responsibility for railway policing under legislation passed last year by the Scottish Parliament, despite concerns from the railway industry, staff associations and trade unions.
But there are unresolved issues around the integration of IT systems and how the terms and conditions of officers transferring from BTP to Police Scotland will be protected.
Following a meeting of the Joint Project Board – which is made up by representatives of the police, Scottish and UK governments – it was decided the implementation plan could not continue as planned.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson said: “The Scottish and UK governments are working together to ensure the legislation passed by parliament last year is implemented as effectively as possible.
“While a later integration date is disappointing, it will provide all partners with the opportunity to enhance the process of engagement, in particular with officers, staff and their representatives on key issues.”
In a statement released yesterday, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said it had become clear the integration plans could not be put in place by April next year without “compromising public safety”.
The announcement of the delay comes ahead of the publication of an independent report on the planned integration due to be published today which surveyed serving BTP officers.
Writing in The Scotsman today, one of the report’s authors, Dr Kath Murray, said there was a “profound sense of loss and anger” among some of those on the force.
She said: “For many BTP officers and staff, the impact of integration is huge. That most respondents do not support the merger, while many have already given serious consideration to leaving railway policing, provides a robust measure of this.
“The importance of these findings is underscored by the simple precept that successful organisational change requires consensus and trust. Seamless and safe integration will need buy-in from skilled and experienced BTP officers and staff – which is yet to be secured.”
No new date for the integration has been given, however the Scottish Government has said it remains committed to seeing the legislation implemented.
But the Scottish Conservative’s justice spokesman, Liam Kerr, said it was time the plans were scrapped.
He said: “While this SNP merger may have hit the buffers, it’s time it was derailed altogether.
“The Scottish Conservatives have campaigned to stop this flawed plan for some time, and we’re glad there’s at least been a delay which might allow the SNP to do some proper planning and strategising.
“It’s an unpopular move that virtually nobody is in favour of, with ideology and dogma seemingly the motive.
“There have been numerous concerns about this proposal, all of which should be enough to force the SNP into a rethink.”
Daniel Johnson, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, said: “This is a welcome U-turn at the 11th hour by the SNP.
“Scottish Labour opposed folding BTP into Police Scotland from the start alongside officers, trade unions and experts, and it is welcome the SNP appears to have finally listened.
“This delay reopens the debate about whether this foolish and misguided merger should go ahead at all given the distinctive nature and requirements of policing our railways.”